So you want to buy your dog a harness. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Find one that fits and off you go. If only it was that simple. Over the years, the world of harnesses has expanded. There are many different types; ones for dog sports, working dogs, over the head, step in… the list goes on. Some research goes a long way in helping find the right harness for your dog.
Harnesses are used for many different purposes. In Canicross and Bike Joring, the dog is attached to a harness to keep them and their human partner safe. If you and your dog are running along and you fall, having the lead attached to a harness means the dog isn’t choked by the sudden stop. Harnesses are used in bite sports to increase frustration, without the dog putting pressure on their neck. Sniffer dogs often wear a harness as it allows their handler to lift them. For tracking dogs, the harness allows the dog to pull without hurting them whilst the handler holds the lead behind them. Most of the professional and sport-related uses of harnesses are to let the dog move freely and for safety. For our companion dogs, harnesses are a great option to help teach dogs to walk on a loose lead.
When considering buying a harness, one of the most important factors should be how would it affect my dog’s movement? Put yourself in your dog’s paws. You would want a harness that would be comfortable and not interfere with using your arms. Look at the shape of the harness. Does the harness sit back out of the way of their shoulder blades? Is it cutting in behind their front legs? Can they move freely if there’s a thick strap in front of their legs? Having to adjust the way they walk or run can cause pain and movement issues in the long run. Our recommendation is for a Y-front harness. This means the chest straps form a Y shape on the front of the dog. This leaves their front legs free to move naturally.
The fit of the harness is another vital factor. If it is too big, the dog could escape. Too small, and it will be uncomfortable, like wearing too small trousers. The fit will impact how far back the harness sits on the dog and whether the chest strap is high or low on their front. Harnesses with several adjustment points make it easier to tailor the fit to the dog. Plus, should the dog’s shape change over time, you wouldn’t necessarily need to buy a whole new harness.
You may think that the way the lead attaches to the harness is trivial at this point. You’ve got the right fit and your dog moves freely. There are still more choices to be made. The majority of harnesses have a ring at the back to connect the lead to. Some have one on the front, on the dog’s chest. Then there are those with both, front and back connection points. These offer more freedom for you to choose. Back connection points are used in sports to encourage the dog to pull forward, or for everyday walks and rambles with your favourite friend. In contrast, front connection points alter the movement of the dog. If they pull forward, the placement of the lead usually causes the dog to steer off their chosen course. For training our dogs to walk without pulling, using both connection points and a double-ended lead is the way to go. It allows for brakes and steering. This means less pain for you, less frustration for your pooch, and more chances to get this walking thing nailed.
Another point is the way the dog gets into the harness. Ones that go over the dog’s head are very popular with people, but maybe not so popular with dogs. Having something put on them like that can be quite scary. There are also step in style harnesses, but those often require manipulating the dog’s legs to get them in. So what else is there? Ones that clip around the dog’s neck. This style can also be beneficial as it is fitted closer to the body. They are harder to escape from and can be better suited to tripaw pups. The harnesses used on our dogs have 3 or more clips, so the dog can be comfortable with the harness even before moving. These are the Perfect Fit and TTouch harnesses. Both are very adjustable and come with a separate piece for the back. Perfect Fit takes this one step further, having 3 individual pieces for the harness above a certain size. This combination of the way the harness is put on, the way it can be tailored for each dog, and their ability to move naturally, make these harnesses our favourites.
After you’ve done your research and bought the best harness you can for your dog, don’t just put it on them and set off. Allow your dog to get used to it being around them first. Scatter some treats around it, pick it up and put it down again. Bring the harness out at feeding times. Take some time to let your dog be comfortable with the harness before it goes on. Go slowly, or the money you spent will be wasted if your dog can’t move while wearing the new equipment. There are lots of tricks you can teach your dog to help them acclimatise to this new sensation.
One thing to be sure to avoid are “no pull” harnesses. Some are ones with two points of connection as mentioned earlier. Sadly, others are ones that intentionally cause discomfort and pain when the dog pulls. They will often be advertised as quick fixes, but the truth is that the issue won’t be fixed – your dog will just have less fun on walks. Dogs can still learn to pull through the pain and you could wind up with worse problems. Be careful out there!